“3-2-1 Penguins!” Character Designs (part 1)

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On Saturday NBC aired another episode of 3-2-1 Penguins! for which I did some character designs. The plot centered around a malfunctioning time machine that sends the penguins’ space ship into the future where they meet their future selves. (The lesson for kids was about respecting the advice of our elders.)

The original penguins were designed several years ago when the series premiered on DVD. I don’t know who came up with the original designs, but I’ve always admired them. The characters have great personality, contrast, and appeal. It was a real treat to take three of the four characters and create an elderly version of each one. Here’s the first two:

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I was also asked to design a generic alien character, a veeery old war-weary soldier. The director suggested he have three eyes and one of them be covered with an eye patch. The character only has a couple of scenes (no dialogue), and while he is held up as someone for the kids to revere he’s also played as a comic character. I wanted the design that was both respectable and a little silly:

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I did a lot of art for this episode, so more will be posted tomorrow.

Eaten Alive In The Studio Jungle

Here’s an interesting article from the LA Times about Deborah Gregory, an author who created “The Cheetah Girls” and sold the property to Disney. Her characters have appeared in two TV movies, sold millions of CDs and DVDs, and have toured in over 80 cities. Her contract with Disney gave her 4% of the gross revenues.

She hasn’t seen a penny.

It’s called Hollywood accounting, and it’s unfortunately very common. Apparently when writers and creators sell the rights to their characters. Hollywood studios have all sorts of tricky ways to balance the books and make sure that somehow the creator’s share of the profits never makes its way onto the bottom line.

I’m not sure if this has much to do with illustration or character design. My guess is most of you will never sell a character or story to a big Hollywood studio. But it is a reminder that at the very least you should be using good, solid contracts when working with clients to help ensure your artwork isn’t misused or your rights infringed upon. To learn more I highly recommend two books: The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines and Tad Crawford’s Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators. Both are chock full of helpful information for the serious freelancer.

You can find even more resources at my Amazon.com Recommended Resources page.

The Power Of A Mascot

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As a freelance illustrator I work on a variety of projects, but my specialty is character design. I periodically get calls from ad agencies, design firms, and business owners wishing to hire me to design a mascot to help promote their product or service.

Mascots are powerful, which is why so many companies use them (like the well-known brands pictured above). Having a character or mascot to represent you in front of the public can have several advantages:

1. Mascots get attention – People are constantly bombarded with messages so you need to go the extra mile to stand out. Mascots get noticed. When people see a mascot they are more likely to stop and listen to what he/she/it has to say.

2. Increased brand awareness. A good mascot is memorable. If an appealing character can work its way into the public consciousness it will become an instantly recognizable symbol for a product. When you look at the Geico gecko you immediately think of Geico. You see the Pillsbury dough boy and think of gooey chocolate chip cookies. The company logo is barely an afterthought. The mascot says it all.

3. A friendly image. Mascots are fun! They are entertaining to watch and send a positive message. A likable character can instantly create a positive connection with your potential customers. It’s much harder to do that with only a logo.

4. Mass appeal. A good mascot can appeal to a wide demographic, across many age groups and backgrounds. Mascots appeal to children as well as adults, extending your brand message to a wider audience. A mascot can even transcend languages and cultures.

6. Lucrative licensing opportunities. If a mascot becomes popular it opens the door for all sorts of profitable merchandise (clothing, toys, etc.) that can make you money while at the same time raising awareness of your product. Mars Inc., the makers of M&M’s, recently opened an entire M&M’s retail store in New York City, thanks in large part to the popularity of their cartoon mascots.

If you think a cartoon mascot might be the right choice for you or for a client, visit the character design gallery on my website where you can view samples of various characters and mascots I’ve designed. You can also contact me about a free consultation, or download a free questionnaire. It’s designed to help you think through your brand message and also to give me a clear idea of what your needs are so that I know the best way to help you.

Keeping On Top Of The Clutter

I’m slowly getting over a monster cold, which means work is piling up and my to-do list is growing whiskers. It doesn’t help that, like many creative types, my ducks aren’t always in a perfect row. Fortunately a few months ago I put a simple system in place that has helped me stay (mostly) organized and will go a long way towards helping me get back on track with minimal hassle. Let’s call it a “three folder system”, unless I can come up with a cheezier name.

I wish I could remember where I got this idea (probably a blog). Using my email inbox as an example, here’s how it works:

In my email program I’ve created three folders:

  • 01-Today!
  • 02-This Week
  • 03-Whenever

Since my folders are alphabetized, the numbers in front of the folder names ensure that these three folders stay at the top of the list. Continue reading

13 Reasons NOT To Be A Freelancer

I’ve been freelancing for eleven years and I love it! Despite the high highs and low lows, overall its been a great career choice for me. But freelancing is not for everyone. I’ve written about the drawbacks and benefits before. Recently I came across a great post written by Chad at ProFreelancing.com that looks at it from another angle:

13 Reasons Why You Should NOT Be A Freelance Writer

The article is aimed at writers, but you could substitute “artist” for “writer” and his comments would still hold true. I agreed completely with every reason on his list except #5 (“Poor Typist”), which obviously doesn’t apply to artists, and possibly #6 (Poor Marketing). Everything else is dead-on.

I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing a freelance career. But before you take the plunge, you would be wise to take Chad’s advice to heart.

Happy Easter!

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. “Good Friday” seems like an odd name one of the most bloody and tortuous executions in human history. How could such a horrific event be “good”?

Because Jesus suffered and died for your sins. He paid for your crimes, then rose from the dead. He can forgive you, cleanse you, and give you eternal life. And that’s good news!

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A couple of years ago I illustrated a cartoon gospel tract to help explain it. So far about two million copies have been printed and its been translated into eight different languages. The tract is copyright-free (I make no royalties) so you can read it for free online. (If you know a ministry that would like to print and distribute the tract, or would like to help with a translation, click here.)

Good Friday is about death, but Easter is about resurrection. If Jesus died and stayed dead, then Christianity is a joke and we might as well close the church doors. But if he did rise from the dead, then his claim to be the Son of God is really true. For you skeptics out there, you may be surprised to know that unlike ghost stories and fairy tales, there is strong, intelligent evidence that the resurrection really did happen. I challenge you not to dismiss Jesus and his claims until you have checked out all the facts.

Thanks for indulging this “preachy” post. Now go eat some jelly beans and have a happy Easter!